THE Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) last week held its Mutual Gains Dialogue in Masvingo where a number of issues were discussed, including wage negotiations at the workplace and the challenges of gender-based violence (GBV) at the workplace. Deputy business editor Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) caught up with Emcoz executive director Nester Mukwehwa (NM, pictured) to discuss a number of issues, which include the objectives of the dialogue, progress on the Labour Amendment Bill and preparations for its annual congress. Below are excerpts:
KK: You held the Mutual Gains Dialogue. Did the dialogue meet the objectives you set for it?
NM: The dialogue for this year, you will find that we had a blend, which includes GBV issues. The theme was “Mainstreaming Gender in Employment”. The focus was on looking at the current employment codes of conduct, employment legislation, like the Labour Act and see whether the GBV aspects are included. So from the discussions what came out is that a lot of employment codes need to be reviewed so that the GBV aspects are taken into account.
KK: What are these aspects?
NM: The aspects that came out of the discussion are aspects to do with the need to create an environment that would encourage the victim to open up, report, and if it’s reported the mechanisms of handling such cases at the workplace must be in place. So it is a big task that we have started as Emcoz so what we need to do now is to try and assist our members to review their current position and then maybe the way forward and include those aspects in their legislation. What also came out is the need to look at industrial relation strategies at the workplace because in terms of the occupation health and safety is also viewed as a safety issue, because the GBV aspect affects the work environment. In terms of the instrument of safety, the obligation of the employer is to create a safe environment. So these are key issues. GBV should also form one of the strategic objectives in an organisation so that people will be in a position to review whether there is progress or not. So yes, it has met the objectives that we had.
KK: Do you see the need for national employment councils to frequently be on the negotiation table as a result of an unstable local currency, which is a major challenge given that section 74 of the Labour Act stipulates that wage negotiations should be held once every 12 months?
NM: I do not see it as a problem, because the Labour Act provides the minimum and the minimum being at least if you are negotiating or engaging a workforce to do so once in a year. So for me, at least one year should not last without any form of dialogue. So, it is not a problem and frequent engagement is the thing now because we live in an environment that requires that. We live in a dynamic world, ever changing and there is a need for continuous engagement at the workplace, as an employer you need to keep your workers informed of your position.
KK: Some have argued that the constant need to discuss wages has had an adverse impact on production. Would you subscribe to that?
NM: Actually the frequency in which people are negotiating wages, l would not want to paint it with the same brush because each sector is doing its own thing. The key is there is sustainability. Whatever is happening, is it going to be sustainable for them? As Emcoz being an umbrella body for employers we normally give advice to employers to say look at their own situation and see how best they can cushion their workers.
KK: What progress has been made on the Labour Amendment Act?
NM: It is now at an advanced stage. We have had our inputs and as employers we have had areas of concerns, which we further discussed with the Parliamentary Committee on Labour, and then following that there were some engagements where the committee was having these public hearings. The parliamentary committee, l think, is now summarising their own report of their own findings. Normally the process will call for that output report to come back and if there is any room for further dialogue the dialogue will be opened through the normal channels. But we have actually communicated our areas of concern in the specific areas to do with fixed term contracts and so on, those were communicated.
KK: How far have you gone with the productivity bill gone?
NM: We were also engaged on that one. We had a meeting with the legal drafters in Mutare so at this stage the legal drafters are putting that bill together following that consultation, and naturally once that has been done the bill will come back.
KK: Given the progress on the Labour Amendment Bill, when do you expect the Labour Amendment Act to be finally signed into law?
NM: Now that is beyond us because I am sure you know it has to go back, maybe the other social partner may know the time-frame. From our end we are hoping the consultative process will be concluded soon. We have been engaging on this for a long time that is why we are hoping it is concluded soon so we see how we implement it. The making of legislation is not static. It is ever moving so there is always room for further amendments to take into account the changing developments.
KK: The Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) technical committee recently met in Mutare. Have you seen any improvements since the TNF became a legislated body?
NM: The negotiation forum is a forum. I want to look at it as mutual gains at national level because this mutual gains workshop that we were doing there is negotiation at national, sector and workplace level. So the fact that the negotiation at that forum is legislated for me is a plus because it gives direction. I have seen some progress to operationalise it. We are in the process of operationalising it with the appointment of an independent executive director who would then run with TNF issues from day-to-day. That is at an advanced stage. There is an improvement in the fact that people are sitting around the table, sometimes they differ but that is very normal. There is engagement although it might not go at the speed that one desires.
KK: How crucial has been the International Labour Organisation(ILO) in all these processes?
NM: ILO is not involved in the day-to-day operations because their role is to give technical support, so the technical support can come by way of them giving experts that will guide you in certain engagements like the Labour Act, strengthening of social dialogue and productivity. We have benefited in the area of productivity matters, which is very important for the private sector so it is a key part.
KK: The annual ILO Geneva summit was held recently. Were you satisfied with the outcomes?
NM: The take away from that is that when the ILO direct contact team came to the country in April, they observed that most of the issues, which were raised long back are no longer there. So we are also happy with the progress, because as l have said we have competing interests and where we differ the platform is now there through the TNF where we can sit down and look at our own issues without externalising it.
KK: How far have you gone in your preparations for this year’s Emcoz annual congress?
NM: In terms of preparations we are at an advanced stage and l am sure very soon we will be making our programme and theme known to our members and we are actually inviting as many people as possible to join us